Dawgs By Nature editor Chris Pokorny was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time to talk about the Browns, the 2013 season and a bunch of other stuff leading into Pittsburgh's Week 12 game against the Browns.
1. Jason Campbell looked woefully inadequate against the Bengals, but looked pretty solid in his previous games. Which version of him should we expect to see Sunday?
At this point, your guess is as good as mine. The reason I was not optimistic about the switch to Jason Campbell several weeks ago was because I thought he would look exactly like he did against the Bengals. He shattered my expectations in every way possible against Kansas City and Baltimore, to the point where I actually started buying into the thought that maybe he could have a late-career resurrection. Instead, he tore that thought to pieces with his performance against Cincinnati.
If there is a silver lining to this, it's the fact that the Bengals game was not a case in which Cincinnati "caught on" or "figured out" Campbell, which means that he can still regroup with two home games coming up. I watched the All-22 film from the game, and the receivers were open plenty of times; Campbell just had a terrible game both in terms of accuracy and decision making.
Some people are saying that his bruised ribs may have figured into that, but I don't buy it. Hopefully we get the more competent version of Campbell this week, but I feel I'd be grasping at straws if I made a bold proclamation that he was going to rebound and shred the Steelers this week.
2. Is the jury still out on quarterbacks in Cleveland, or did they find their future with Brian Hoyer? I thought he looked like a legit starting caliber quarterback. Do you feel any quarterback available via free agency or the draft will be targeted this offseason?
I wish I would have appreciated Brian Hoyer more before he tore his ACL. I loved what he was doing, but thought that maybe it was a byproduct of Josh Gordon also returning to the offense at the same time he took over as the starter. After watching Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell since Hoyer's injury, I can't tell you how many fans have said, "imagine where we would be if Hoyer hadn't got hurt."
With two first-round draft picks, I think Cleveland will definitely take a quarterback relatively early in the draft, rather than trying to sign somebody in free agency. In an ideal scenario, maybe we could have Hoyer start at quarterback next season with the rookie quarterback learning on the bench, a luxury that quarterbacks in Cleveland haven't really been afforded. Based on how Hoyer does, a more informed decision can be made the following season as to whether or not he can be the future quarterback of the franchise, or if it's time to hand the reigns over to our youngster.
3. Cleveland sold lower than what they paid for Trent Richardson, but it was the right move. It's the biggest headline-worthy decision made by the new Browns ownership and management to this point. How has the fan base taken to this aggressive approach to roster development?
Fans feared the worst when Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi were brought in to the front office, but the Trent Richardson trade certainly stands out as an early "winning" moment for them.
We also had a rumor swirling around for weeks that the front office was looking to trade Josh Gordon. That was something the fan base was completely against, even if there was a lucrative package that would have involved first-round picks. If Gordon had been shipped, that would have instantly turned people off to the front office. By keeping Gordon in Cleveland, I think it added to some of the positive public relations Banner and Lombardi had attracted after they dealt Richardson.
The next step is to see how Cleveland capitalizes on the pick for Richardson, as well as other picks in the 2014 draft (such as the one they acquired from the Steelers). Did the sacrifices in the 2013 draft pay off? These questions are left unanswered for the moment, and fans were most critical of Banner and Lombardi's draft history, so we'll see.
4. In losing four of its last five games, Cleveland's allowed 126 points. Is this the fault of the offense's inability to keep the ball (roughly 27 minutes of possession, eight turnovers) or is the defense falling off (four sacks, three takeaways)?
The defense definitely hit a rough patch against the Lions and the Packers. In both games, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers were getting rid of the ball very quickly, negating our pass rush completely. On top of that, they both wisely targeted our inside linebackers in coverage, which was becoming a big weak spot for the defense. The third-down defense and red-zone defense has been surprisingly awful, too, despite being good in all of the other categories.
Cleveland has probably played their best three defensive games of the season over their past three games. You wouldn't know it based on the 41-20 score of the Bengals game, but Cincinnati could not do anything on offense in that game: they were 1-of-14 on third down, and Dalton was kept under 100 yards passing with two interceptions.
The overall problem when it comes to points allowed has been an inconsistent offense, which leads to short fields for opposing teams, coupled with our defense struggling in too many third-down situations. In comparing the two on a scale, though, I attribute the offensive issues being much-more related to the high point totals Cleveland has allowed than the defensive issues.
5. National media are quoting sources that say Ben Roethlisberger is unhappy with some things and may request a trade this offseason. Before the trade deadline, Browns WR Josh Gordon was the subject of trade rumors. Gordon's a dynamic playmaker with a small price tag, but is a flunked test away from missing a year. Do you think the team seriously looked into trading him?
Here is what I think happened: after the Browns took a deal that was too good to be true (a first-rounder for a possible bust of a running back in Trent Richardson), NFL teams around the country started calling the Browns with the assumption that the front office was having a fire sale. One team even called about left tackle Joe Thomas, reportedly. It wouldn't be wise for the Browns to just ignore every call that comes in -- this was an opportunity for them to gauge the market on some of their players, in the event another too-good-to-be-true trade came up.
Although I was nervous on the final day of the trade deadline, I never believed Josh Gordon would be traded, especially since our head coach kept stating that there was no intention of trading him. The front office and coaching staff couldn't turn a blind eye to the fact that Gordon was so valuable to our offense with his production. Even if they were wary about his character, he's too talented to ship away, even for a first-round pick. If you ship away Gordon, chances are, the person you try to replace him with is going to be far inferior at best.
Follow-up discussion: Perhaps it might have been better to ask Chris what he felt Gordon's going rate would have been, if the Browns were to have accepted a hypothetical trade offer. We'll leave that for the readers to discuss.
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